Miniature Abstract Totem. Signed with initials.
Provenance: Virginia Field, Arts administrator; New York, N.Y. Assistant director for Asia House gallery. (she was friends with John von Wicht and Andy Warhol)
Born in 1897, Ben-Zion Weinman celebrated his European Jewish heritage in his visual works as a sculptor, painter, and printmaker. Influenced by Spinoza, Knut Hamsun, and Wladyslaw Reymont, as well as Hebrew literature, Ben-Zion wrote poetry and essays that, like his visual work, attempt to reveal the deep “connection between man and the divine, and between man and earth.”
An emigrant from the Ukraine, he came to the US in 1920. He wrote fairy tales and poems in Hebrew under the name Benzion Weinman, but when he began painting he dropped his last name and hyphenated his first, saying an artist needed only one name.
Ben-Zion was a founding member of “The Ten: An Independent Group” The Ten” a 1930’s avant-garde group, Painted on anything handy. Ben-Zion often used cabinet doors (panels) in his work. Other members of group included Ilya Bolotowsky, Lee Gatch, Adolf Gottlieb, Louis Harris, Yankel Kufeld, Marcus Rothkowitz (later known as Mark Rothko), Louis Schanker, and Joseph Solman. The Art of “The Ten” was generally described as expressionist, as this style offered the best link between modernism and social art. Their exhibition at the Mercury Gallery in New York held at the same time as the Whitney Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, included a manifesto concentrating on aesthetic questions and criticisms of the conservative definition of modern art imposed by the Whitney. Ben-Zion’s work was quickly noticed. The New York Sun said he painted “furiously” and called him “the farthest along of the lot.” And the triptych, “The Glory of War,” was described by Art News as “resounding.”
By 1939, The Ten disbanded because most of the members found individual galleries to represent their work. Ben-Zion had his first one-man show at the Artist’s Gallery in Greenwich Village and J.B. Neumann, the highly esteemed European art dealer who introduced Paul Klee, (among others) to America, purchased several of Ben-Zion’s drawings. Curt Valentin, another well-known dealer, exhibited groups of his drawings and undertook the printing of four portfolios of etchings, each composed of Ben-Zion’s biblical themes.
Ben-Zion’s work is represented in many museums throughout the country including the Metropolitan, the Whitney, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Phillips Collection, Washington. The Jewish Museum in New York opened in 1948 with a Ben-Zion exhibition.
“Ben-Zion has his hands on the pulse of the common man and his natural world”
As he emerged as an artist Ben-Zion never lost his gift for presenting the ordinary in ways that are vital, fresh and filled with emotions that are somber and exhilarating, joyous and thoughtful, and ultimately, filled with extraordinary poetic simplicity.
Ben-Zion consistently threaded certain subject matter—nature, still life, the human figure, the Hebrew Bible, and the Jewish people—into his work throughout his life. "In all his work a profound human feeling remains. Sea and sky, even sheaves of wheat acquire a monolithic beauty and simplicity which delineates the transient as a reflection of the eternal. This sensitive inter- mingling of the physical and metaphysical is one of the most enduring features of Ben-Zion's works." (Excerpt from Stephen Kayser, “Biblical Paintings,” The Jewish Museum Catalogue, 1952).
Ben-Zion continued his style of representational painting based on the abstract, and is perhaps best known for his Biblical paintings and etchings.
Ben-Zion received an American Jewish Congress award.
In 1987, Ben-Zion died in his home in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. He was 90 years old.